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Children's Mercy KC Draws Inspiration From NASA With New Patient Progression Hub

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   July 25, 2023

The hospital has created a high-tech command center to monitor patient progress through the hospital and address any pain points and potential care concerns.

As healthcare organizations across the country embrace telemedicine and digital health platforms within the hospital, they're creating high-tech command centers to manage all those new connections and capabilities.

One of the latest is Children's Mercy Kansas City, which partnered with GE HealthCare to craft a NASA-inspired Patient Progression Hub, a 6,000-foot "mission control center" that allows care providers to track a wide range of services, from patient care and supply chain to weather and traffic beyond the hospital's walls.

"It gives us a complete look at the patient as well as the surrounding community," says Stephanie Meyer, the health system's senior vice president and chief nursing officer. "We're looking at the entire patient flow instead of just a piece of it."

[See also: Houston Methodist's Michelle Stansbury Enjoys Thinking Outside the Boundaries.]

The hub brings together many of the new technologies that comprise healthcare innovation strategy these days, including remote monitoring, audio-visual telemedicine, predictive analytics and AI, and technologies built into the EMR platform that allow administrators to monitor a patient's progress through the hospital from admission to discharge.

The strategy is an expansion of the central nurse's station on a patient floor, where nurses could keep an eye on many patient rooms through connected devices and audio-visual telemedicine feeds. That idea gained value during the pandemic, when health systems looked to monitor contagious patients without sending nurses or other staff into each room.

Today's command centers are much larger, monitoring more than one wing, even entire hospitals. Some are located in large rooms built for that purpose, while other health systems are carving out empty space left over from previous expansions or even in nearby office buildings or warehouses. The development of wireless monitors, expanded connectivity, and more sophisticated telemedicine platforms gives health systems more opportunities to gather data and track patients and staff from a distance.

[See also: The Exec: Jerry Vuchak Navigates the Rocky Road of Pediatric Innovation.]

Meyer and Jennifer Watts, MD, an emergency medicine physician and Children's Mercy Kansas City's chief patient progression medical officer, says the hub took several years to design and build and involved input from many different departments and people, from IT staff to nurses.

While some parts of the hub were tested out over the past half-year, the hub officially opened in April. And it comes at a perfect time, as healthcare leaders look to virtual care technology to reduce stress and burnout among staff and create more engaging workflows.

"For a long time people were just fixated on what was right in front of their faces," Watts says of the hard times caused in no small part by the pandemic. "We wanted to get all of our [employees and staff] to look up and see things from an enterprise level. The processes we could make easier, the workflows we could affect. We wanted to make things meaningful again."

The hub features a video wall containing customized apps, or tiles, to monitor the flow of patients through the health system. Those working in the hub can drill down and follow specific patients, look at staff schedules and scheduled services like labs and tests, even manage open beds and identify bottlenecks. Data analytics and AI tools on the back end track not only current activity but plan out future tasks, identifying surges and problems before they affect staff or patient care.

[See also: Rady Children's Hospital Takes a Team-Based Approach to Care Innovation.]

"Prior to implementation, the organization relied on manual processes and often retrospective data to understand patient census and anticipate discharges," Jodi Coombs, MBA, BSN, RN, Children's Mercy's executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in an April press release announcing the hub's opening. "Now we have visibility into operations across the entire system to make faster and smarter complex decisions as soon as vital workflows change. The Patient Progression Hub journey enables endless possibilities for using real-time data to drive actions that deliver excellent patient care and supports our team members."

Watts and Meyer say the NASA-inspired command center can be intimidating at first because of the high-tech look and feel, and that caused some trepidation among nurses and staff members who would be working there. Many of those people were brought into the planning stages early on to add input on how the technology and layout could be designed to be less intimidating.

"This is a very complex, multi-faceted technology," Meyer says. "It involved a lot of buy-in and training on how to interact with everything."

The benefits, meanwhile, are numerous—and discovered on an almost daily basis. Patient care is coordinated and streamlined right up through an expedited and more efficient discharge process, which reduces stress for staff as well as patients and their families. If a patient is showing signs of distress or his or her data is trending in the wrong direction, a nurse in the hub can identify that concern and take action before it becomes an emergency. Even external issues like dangerous storms, accidents, and traffic jams are monitored so that the hospital can prepare for new patients.

"We're looking at the future of pediatric care," says Meyer. "And it gives [staff and employees] a renewed hope in the future of healthcare."

[See also: Baptist Health's New Tower Offers the Latest in Critical Care Innovation for Kids.]

Meyer says Children's Mercy Kansas City will add new technologies and capabilities in time, including more AI and predictive analytics tools, remote patient monitoring programs that extend from the hospital to the home, and wearables and other digital health tools.
We're going to do things that we haven't even thought of yet," says Watts. "We're just starting on this journey."

“For a long time people were just fixated on what was right in front of their faces. We wanted to get all of our [employees and staff] to look up and see things from an enterprise level. The processes we could make easier, the workflows we could affect. We wanted to make things meaningful again.”

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.

Photo credit: Photo courtesy Children's Mercy Kansas City.


Children's Mercy Kansas City spent several years developing its Patient Progression Hub in a collaboration with GE Healthcare.

The high-tech command center enables staff to monitor patients in the hospital, track staffing and supply chain, and even keep tabs on external events like storms and accidents.

The hospital is using audio-visual telemedicine technology as well as AI and analytics tools to keep track of patients and identify health concerns before they become emergencies.

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